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Citizenship Basics

There are several ways to become a U.S. citizen, each with a unique set of rules and requirements. If you are considering applying for citizenship, you should become familiar with the procedures involved in order to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible. The Citizenship Basics section outlines the essential points that anyone applying for U.S. citizenship needs to understand. Included are articles about dual citizenship, the requirements for U.S. citizenship, government resources to help with the naturalization process, primers on U.S. citizenship for foreign-born adopted children, renunciation of U.S. citizenship, and more. Choose an article below to get started.

Basis for Citizenship

Citizenship can be acquired by birth, blood, or naturalization. Those born in the United States are automatically U.S. citizens, with the exception of the children of foreign diplomats. Those with U.S. citizen parents born outside the U.S. may acquire citizenship, provided they fulfill certain conditions which vary depending on the year of their birth. Naturalization is the term for the administrative process by which everyone else can become a U.S. citizenship.

Requirements to Apply for Citizenship

  • You already have a green card
  • You are at least 18 years old
  • You have lived in the U.S. lawfully as a permanent resident for at least five years unless you fit an exception
  • During those five years, you have been physically present in the U.S. for at least half of the time
  • You have not spent more than one year at a time outside the U.S.
  • You have not established a primary home in another country
  • You have lived in the state or district where you are filing your application for at least three months
  • You have "good moral character"
  • You can read, write and speak English
  • You can pass a test about U.S. history and government
  • You will swear that you believe in the principles of the U.S. Constitution and will be loyal to the U.S.

Waivers, Exceptions, and Special Cases

Some individuals may receive special benefits or avoid certain obligations when seeking citizenship. Most applicants for citizenship must hold status as a resident for at least five years before applying for citizenship. Spouses of US citizens who obtained residency as a result of the marriage may apply for citizenship after only three years as a resident, though they must still have a valid relationship at the time of application with the same individual through whom they acquired residency and that person must have been a citizen throughout the period.

The physical presence requirement may be waived if the U.S. citizen spouse was employed or stationed abroad by the U.S. Government (including the military), a U.S. Research Institute, a U.S. religious organization, a U.S. company involved in the development of trade and commerce, or certain U.S. public international organizations.

Foreign born U.S. military service members may apply for U.S. citizenship after one year of service. The permanent resident spouse and children of a U.S. service member who is killed in action may apply for naturalization immediately.

Those with disabilities may avoid the civics and language requirements. Some applicants may avoid the English language requirements if:

  • They are 50 or older, have resident status, and have lived in the U.S. for 20 years
  • They are 55 or older, have resident status, and have lived in the U.S. for 15 years


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